How ‘Normal People’ Eat 2: The “Captain Chicken” interview

In my family, grownups hang nicknames on kids and my cousin Heather bestows nicknames on everyone else. Thus Grandpa Isch became “Ervin Lee Bumble Bee” in his last decade of life, and my dad was dubbed “Captain Chicken” for the predictability of his standard restaurant order.

Dad’s never had a weight problem, but I don’t think it’s because he makes health-conscious food decisions. He’s just finicky. Like me, he doesn’t like any obvious animal residue in meat, so a plain chicken breast probably simply represents the safest choice on most menus.

He loves ice cream, and rarely turns down a cone or allows the carton to go back in the freezer before he’s dipped out a couple of large scoops. At Bob Evans the other day, he ordered an enormous bowl of cheesy potato soup and a plate of fried mush that looked exactly like three Filet O’Fish sandwiches minus the toppings and buns.

So he’s not exactly a healthy eater. But here’s one difference I’ve detected between him and me: He really, really hates to feel “stuffed.” Whereas I only began paying close attention to that sensation about a week ago — more than four months after I met my goal weight. (As I said in Sunday’s post, going hungry is not a problem with Weight Watchers.)

One of the many “mind parasites” that clouded my perspective on food was that I really, really hated to feel deprived. If someone had dessert and I didn’t, it bugged me subconsciously even if it was my decision. Amid all that buzzing in my brain, the signals my body sent about whether I was full rarely arrived in time.  And even when they did, the mind parasites were much stronger than my aversion to feeling “stuffed.” (This is probably why some people cringe at the idea of running the Krispy Kreme Challenge — a North Carolina race where you eat a dozen doughnuts halfway through — whereas I find it strangely intriguing.)

It used to really bug me to talk to my dad about food. Now I find it weirdly fascinating. Here are his answers to a few questions I came up with:

So what about that Krispy Kreme Challenge? Does that sound like fun or sheer misery to you?

I don’t see any reason for that type of race, plus I don’t eat rolls or donuts. … About the only rolls I’ll eat are if Mom stops at Heyerly’s and gets those caramel rolls, but I haven’t had one of those in months and months. … This comes from about 10-15 years ago when I decided to stop eating candy and drinking pop, and I started drinking iced tea. I will eat some chocolate once in a while, but not hard candy. It’s been years and years since I’ve had that. I don’t like the way the candy melts and then that sugar juice  just slops around your teeth. Its a teeth issue. … And I really don’t like to eat pie anymore, either, though there are some kinds that I really like. I did have a piece of peach cream pie the other day…
Have you always hated that “stuffed” feeling, or is it something that you’ve become more sensitive to as you’ve gotten older — like a few years ago when you kept making new notches in your belt because you refused to get a bigger size?

I think it was more so as I aged. At my age, I simply don’t need as much fuel for my body. The problem is telling my brain that piece of info.
So why did you order that big bowl of soup and the plate of mush?

It wasn’t that big of a bowl — I think you exaggerated there a little bit. (Discussion ensues over the phone as my parents debate the size of the bowl. We agree that it was a standard restaurant-sized bowl, which is quite a bit larger than a soup bowl at home.) … There are certain foods that I like very much and I guess I don’t want to be deprived? …  But I gave one of the pieces of  mush to Ben to help me not feel so stuffed. I would really prefer a cup of soup and one stick of mush.

You’ve said that Honey Nut Cheerios are a special treat, that you often eat two bowls of that as opposed to your usual single bowl of Bran Flakes. Does your desire for Honey Nut Cheerios trump your  aversion to feeling “stuffed,” or is two bowls not enough to trigger that discomfort?

Bran Flakes is for breakfast. HNC is for a special treat any other time of day. And HNC does not fill you up that much. I usually fill the bowl full of milk and some HNC. After I have eaten the HNC there is milk left, so I simply add more HNC.

Obviously you do eat more than you intend to from time to time. Do you worry about eating too much?

I would if I did it most of the time. I would also start to gain weight, so I always try to eat slower and eat less.
Did you really used to just take a banana to work for lunch, or is that a figment of my imagination?

I would eat the banana sometime during the forenoon. It was my treat before HNC. Fred used to always bring a banana to work also.

You seem to prefer predictable meals. Why? If you had to eat the same foods over and over for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

I do pretty much order the same food at each restaurant we frequent. So at Bob Evans it would always be one of the following: Mush, potato soup, cheese omelet or cobb salad. At El Camino (a restaurant in Bluffton) it would be a bean burrito with white sauce.

When you want to lose a few pounds, do you just cut back on portions or do you make other changes?

Almost always cut back on portions and exercise more.

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